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Private schools have benefited from PPP funding

This is the Coronavirus Schools Briefing, a guide to seismic changes in education in the United States that are occurring during the pandemic. Sign up here to receive this newsletter to your inbox.

This spring, when the federal government disbursed billions of dollars in emergency pandemic funding, traditional K-12 public schools in Los Angeles received an average of about $ 716,000.

Meanwhile, Sierra Canyon School, a private school in the San Fernando Valley where LeBron James’ son is an outstanding basketball player, received $ 3.14 million – part of a loan – pandemic grant to its foundation of the Federal Paycheck Protection Program.

New York public schools have an average of $ 386,000 in federal aid. But Poly Prep Country Day School, a private Brooklyn school with more than $ 114 million in the bank, got a $ 5.83 million PPP loan. Public schools in Washington, DC, received an average of $ 189,000 in federal funding. But a $ 5.22 million PPP loan went to Sidwell Friends School, Sasha and Malia Obama’s alma mater in Washington.

This week, as the federal government releases a second round of P3 loans, watch groups are tracking the money. Since its inception, the $ 659 billion program, to help struggling family businesses and nonprofits cover their wages with loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration, has been marred by complaints that rich and connected had ousted the intended recipients.

A recipient database – released in full by the Treasury Department in December after the Times and other major news agencies filed a federal complaint – supported those concerns.

In education, the disparities were particularly striking. Public schools are not eligible for PPP loans because they have a separate aid pot under the federal CARES law. But private and charter schools could apply for the loans. Many did, sometimes to their embarrassment when the demands became public.

The Latin School of Chicago, which revealed an endowment of $ 58.5 million in a recent tax return, applied for a loan and then returned the money after an article in the school’s student newspaper, The Forum. The same was true for the elite Brentwood School in Los Angeles, after the Los Angeles Times noted that his students include two of the children of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Yet many elite private schools kept the money they asked for, citing economic uncertainty and rules that limited their ability to tap into their endowments to cover their salaries. After an initial round of PPP funding quickly ran out, the Small Business Administration released revised guidelines for the program that state that employers with other funding options should not apply. The rules have since been tightened even further.

But Accountable.US – a non-partisan watchdog organization that compiled the aforementioned statistics on schools in Los Angeles, New York and Washington – says it still needs to fill in the gaps that hide fairness issues, making the program vulnerable. to potential fraudsters and continue to leave well connected cash in loans. And minority-focused lenders raise similar concerns. This fight is far from over.

After the epidemics of last fall, the city-state of Singapore has on average less than one locally transmitted case each day. Since the start of the pandemic, reports our colleague Sui-Lee Wee, its three major universities have not reported any cases of community transmission.

From our perch here in the United States, it almost sounds like a fantasy. But the three factors that contribute to its success – technology, restrictions, and compliance – can provide a useful benchmark for educators and government officials around the world.

The National University of Singapore has invested in vast testing resources and is screening dormitory sewage for traces of the coronavirus. It’s in sync with many American campuses.

But the university is also using technology to enforce social distancing measures, especially by evacuating crowds in high traffic areas. The university president regularly scans an online dashboard to see how crowded the cafeterias are. If the real-time map shows that a dining room is too full, it asks admins to send a notice to avoid it and use other options.

Singapore’s government has adopted an aggressive response to the pandemic: it punishes those who violate restrictions, in some cases by deporting foreign nationals and revoking work cards.

In universities, severe restrictions on campus have led to the expulsion of some students from dormitories to accommodate visitors. More than 800 students signed a petition last October to lift the restrictions.

“The consequences are serious, so people are afraid” said 24-year-old law student Fok Theng Fong.

Most students in Singapore do not live on campus. And Singapore has no fraternities and sororities.

Olyvia Lim, a senior at Nanyang Technological University, said reports of American students partying amid a pandemic have confused her friends.

“We all said, ‘Why would they risk doing such a thing? Said Lim. “It’s a little hard to believe because we’re the same age, but I think that’s the culture. It’s all about freedom, but when the government says here, “Wear a mask”, we all do it. “

  • After the University of Alabama won the college football championship on Monday night, thousands of people partied in the streets to celebrate, in a potential super-spreader event.

  • Appalachian State University and the University of North Carolina-Charlotte joined a growing list of schools delaying the start of in-person learning. And a community college in California, Chaffey College, canceled in-person classes for the spring term.

  • Many colleges in Rhode Island plans to open soon, despite the rise in cases.

  • Art in the midst of chaos: Three students at Dartmouth College shared their artistic creations with Emma Ginsberg, reporter for the student newspaper. Jazz, pastry and theater are still flourishing.

  • A good read: Our colleague Billy Witz looked at the often absurd inequalities in college sports. “It’s hard to disentangle the hypocrisy from the heartwarming in the college sports mega-business, where the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the conflicts inherent in a financial model that is raking in billions off the backs of unpaid gamers.

  • About 250 public schools in New York City offer full-time classes, five days a week to all of their students, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

  • After delays, Utah began vaccinating teachers on Tuesday.

  • Arkansas expand its vaccine distribution to teachers, child care and higher education workers.

  • Boston plans to bring more students back from public schools for in-person learning starting in February. Last week, Governor Charlie Baker unveiled plans to begin pool testing for Massachusetts students and staff.

  • A notice from Chicago: Stacy Moore, Executive Director of Educators for Excellence-Chicago, did not mince words. “If the leaders of our school district and teachers’ union continue on this path, no one wins,” wrote Moore, a former teacher. “It’s time for both sides to act like adults and come to the table to compromise.”

  • A worthy watch: A teacher at a Baltimore public school posted a powerful video with student testimonials. “It’s so hard to stay connected with your computer,” said one student. “It’s like a curse.” Alec MacGillis, journalist at ProPublica, written on twitter that it was “the first collection of first-hand student accounts that I have seen from anywhere in the country”.

Our colleague Christina Caron has written a handy explainer for everything you need to know about Covid testing for children. She spoke to five doctors and two of the largest emergency care providers in the United States to analyze the following questions: Are there less invasive tests? If so, where? Are they correct? And how should parents prepare a disgusted young child for the sample?

There is a ton of information in the article. But in general, to calm the nerves, Christina recommends going to a pediatrician. “Doctors and nurses who test children regularly will likely know what to do if your child is nervous or scared,” she wrote.

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Rental protections, funding for nursing homes, food stamps: this is what is included in the stimulus bill.

The $ 900 billion stimulus bill passed by Congress this week is supposed to meet the needs of millions of Americans who have resisted the effects of the coronavirus pandemic for months, even as numerous federal programs have help have been reduced or expired.

The full text of the bill was almost 5,600 pages long. Here’s a look at what’s included.

Direct payment is one of the most anticipated elements of the law, with $ 600 earmarked for adults whose adjusted gross income can reach $ 75,000 per year based on earnings in 2019. Household heads earning up to $ 112,500 and a couple (or someone whose spouse died in 2020) earning up to $ 150,000 per year would receive double that amount.

Eligible families with dependent children would receive an additional $ 600 per child.

In a change from the last round, payments will not be denied to citizens married to someone without a social security number, allowing some spouses of undocumented immigrants to claim the benefit this time around.

On Tuesday evening, President Trump threatened to veto the bill because he said the payments were too low. He advocates payments of $ 2,000. House Democrats are scheduled to introduce an amendment to the bill on Thursday, an aide familiar with the proposal said. We do not know how the House and the Senate will act.

With up to 12 million Americans facing the prospect of losing federal unemployment assistance on Dec. 26, Congress has acted to expand several programs, albeit at less generous levels than in the spring.

The deal would relaunch enhanced federal jobless benefits for 11 weeks, providing a lifeline for hard-hit workers until March 14. The new benefit, up to $ 300 per week, is half of the amount provided by the CARES Act in the spring.

The legislation also extends pandemic unemployment assistance – a program aimed at a wide range of freelancers and independent contractors – for the same period, providing an additional $ 100 per week.

The deal sets aside $ 285 billion for additional loans to small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program, renewing the program created under the CARES Act.

The latest version includes stricter terms that seem intended to correct some of the unpopular elements of the original program. It caps loans at $ 2 million and makes them available only to borrowers with fewer than 300 employees who have seen at least 25% decline in sales from a year earlier for at least one quarter. The deal also sets aside $ 12 billion specifically for minority-owned businesses. And publicly traded companies won’t be able to apply this time around.

The legislation provides nearly $ 70 billion for a range of public health measures, including $ 20 billion for the purchase of vaccines, $ 8 billion for vaccine distribution and an additional $ 20 billion to help states continue their testing and traceability programs.

The bill also allows a federal program that insures mortgages for nursing homes to provide emergency loans to help hard-hit senior care centers.

In an unusual rebuke of the Trump administration’s climate policy, the deal includes new legislation to regulate hydrofluorocarbons, the potent greenhouse gases common in air conditioners and refrigerators.

It also allocates $ 35 billion to finance wind, solar and other clean energy projects.

The bill will ban hospitals from charging patients for services such as emergency treatment by off-grid doctors or air ambulance transport, over which patients often have no say.

The compromise would protect tenants struggling with rent by extending a moratorium on evictions by one month, until January 31. . It runs until February 28.

The bill also provides for housing assistance of $ 25 billion.

Expanding one of the most trusted aid channels, the deal increases monthly food stamp benefits – officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP – by 15% for six months, to as of January 1.

The legislation provides $ 7 billion to expand access to high-speed Internet connections, nearly half of which will be used to cover the cost of monthly Internet bills by providing up to $ 50 per month to low-income families.

The deal also provides $ 300 million for infrastructure construction in underserved rural areas and $ 1 billion in grants for tribal broadband programs.

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Public schools face funding ‘death spiral’ as enrollments decline

SACRAMENTO – In Texas, public schools in Austin could lay off 200 people and fail to close the financial hole created by the coronavirus. Governor Jay Inslee of Washington has proposed two new taxes to help pay for catching up with students who have fallen behind in distance learning. And in Los Angeles, the costs of virus tests, laptops and free meals for families have totaled more than $ 400 million.

Even with a promised lifeline of billions of federal dollars, public schools in many parts of the country are heading towards a financial cliff, as the coronavirus pushes up education costs as tax revenues and enrollments increase. students continue to decline.

Schools can expect around $ 54 billion from the coronavirus stimulus package approved by Congress late Monday night, nearly four times what kindergarten to grade 12 education received in a relief program Of March. The deal also includes $ 7 billion to expand broadband access for students who have difficulty connecting, and continued funding for school lunch programs.

But school officials say that’s not enough to make up for the crushing losses state and local budgets have suffered during the pandemic, or the costs of distance learning and attempts to bring back the children. students in classrooms. Supporters of public education estimate that schools have lost nearly $ 200 billion so far.

“We’re going to need a lot more investment both in the short term, to deal with Covid, and in the long term,” said Chip Slaven, a lobbyist for the National School Boards Association.

The pandemic has already forced schools across the country to lay off non-union employees, instead spending the money on distance learning technology, building upgrades, testing and monitoring programs and other related expenses. to coronaviruses. Education was among the hardest-hit sectors of the economy, according to an analysis by Pew Charitable Trusts, with employment down 8.8% in October from a year earlier and lower than any other time in the past two decades – a loss of millions of jobs.

The budget crisis is looming at a time when families who were fed up with education during the pandemic era have increasingly turned to private and charter schools or have chosen to educate their children in House. This is potentially a major drain on public school budgets, as most states base school funding at least in part on enrollment numbers.

The school boards association has estimated that up to three million students – or about 6 percent of the public school population – are not in class right now, and that number could increase.

At the same time, job losses from a pandemic, business closures and depreciation in property values ​​are just starting to show up in tax revenues and state and local revenue pipelines, even as most states begin to draft their budget plans for adoption by the end of the fiscal year in June.

Although the relief package adopted on Monday includes direct aid to education, it does not provide money to state and local governments to help offset budget losses linked to Covid, which could prevent them from helping further schools. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, insisted on ruling out such aid, saying it would be a bailout for financially irresponsible states.

At public schools in Vancouver, a district of about 23,000 students in southwest Washington, enrollment is down 4% so far this year, contributing to a potential shortfall of 21 millions of dollars without state or federal assistance. As schools were primarily providing virtual classes this fall, the district laid off more than 600 people, including classroom assistants, clerks, secretaries, bus drivers and security guards, to save money. silver.

Most states have so far been successful in maintaining funding for schools during the pandemic, but it’s unclear how long that may last, said David Adkins, executive director and chief executive of the council. state governments, which follows state policy at the national level. It will be especially difficult if registrations do not bounce back.

“We will have to see how many of these people return home once normalcy can be achieved,” Adkins said. But if the pandemic accelerates the exodus of affluent families from the public school system, he expressed fears that the loss of enrollment and political support could trigger a “death spiral,” further weakening public schools at a time when students poor and disadvantaged are already lagging behind.

For the most part, schools have been financially protected from the pandemic. Property taxes, which are the primary source of funding for many districts, tend to remain stable until a recession is deep enough to decrease home sales and property tax collection. And many state governments had healthy reserves when the pandemic hit, having squandered money in anticipation of a possible economic recession.

Some states have adopted policies financially protecting schools from enrollment drops related to the pandemic. In Sacramento, California lawmakers pledged to use the number of students before the pandemic to calculate funding for schools through the 2021-2022 school year, to give districts the resources they need to make schools safe and to avoid layoffs in communities where education is often a major employer.

But California entered the fiscal year with a projected surplus of nearly $ 6 billion. Grace periods were more limited in other states. Texas, for example, made its “keep it harmless” policy conditional on schools having the opportunity to attend classes in person and limited it, at first, to part of the semester of school. fall, before extending it to the end of the calendar year.

Now that the semester is almost over, enrollment is down in nearly every district in Texas, in large part because a significant number of parents have withheld kindergarten and kindergarten students. As a result, school funding is poised to suffer.

On December 14, nearly two dozen school principals and education advocates in Texas wrote to Governor Greg Abbott, asking him to at least maintain current education funding. Teachers and school staff “put their lives on the line” this year, the letter said, and not firing them is “the least we can do.”

Enrollments fell 4% in Dallas in October, meaning the district could lose $ 20 million if the governor does not extend the safety policy. In Fort Worth, where registrations have fallen more than 6%, the potential loss on Jan. 1 could reach $ 50 million, the superintendent said. And Austin schools stand to lose up to $ 25 million, which Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said would lead to a thinning of the ranks of teachers.

“We are going to affect the quality of the education given to our students at some point next year when we know that we are going to have to make up for so many losses,” she said.

The decline in enrollment is just as perilous across the country. A 5% drop in student numbers could mean $ 15 million in cuts for schools in Tucson, Ariz., While Massachusetts recently released enrollment figures showing tens of thousands of families had passed through. at private schools with in-person lessons or had withheld kindergarten children, subtract funds from public schools.

In Los Angeles, not only has public school enrollment declined by some 12,000 students – mostly as families leave to find work or hold kindergarten children – the district has also raised some $ 400 million in costs. pandemic, said Austin Beutner, the superintendent, including for Covid-19 testing and free take-out meals for students and adults.

He described the schools as facing a “wall of need”.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has vowed to reopen most schools across the country within the first 100 days of his term in office, a promise that will likely not be fulfilled without more federal spending, though it is unclear whether he will be able to push more humanitarian aid through Congress if the Senate remains under Republican control.

But some states have already taken matters into their own hands. Governor Inslee has proposed taxing capital gains and health insurers in Washington to help generate income to offset the dire impact of the pandemic there, including $ 400 million to combat learning loss and inequalities in access to education. And the budget proposed by Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia last week would protect public school funding despite a drop in enrollment of more than 45,000 students.

In a recent editorial in the Washington Post, Mr. Beutner in Los Angeles and officials from the country’s other two largest public school systems, New York and Chicago, called for a “Marshall Plan” that would spend $ 125 billion. dollars federal funding to districts for Covid screening, mental health care and remedial summer education as schools emerge from the pandemic.

The cost, they note, “is less than 20% of the total amount allocated to the paycheck protection program and about double the amount given to airlines.”

Shawn Hubler reported from Sacramento, Kate Taylor from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Amelia Nierenberg from New York.

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Person named by Trump seeks to cut funding for global Internet access group

WASHINGTON – The Trump-appointed person who oversees the government’s global media operations is set to shut down a federally-funded nonprofit that helps support internet access around the world, a move that could limit the ability of people in countries like Iran and China to tightly control Internet access. to circumvent these constraints, the documents show.

The person named, Michael Pack, the chief executive of the U.S. Agency for Global Media seeks to prevent the nonprofit, the Open Technology Fund, from receiving federal funding for three years, in part due to ‘a dispute over whether the fund should support the work being done. by Falun Gong, the spiritual movement known to spread anti-China and pro-Trump disinformation.

His action, a month before President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. took office, would be difficult for the new administration to undo.

The nonprofit, which is funded by the World Media Agency, helps develop technology that enables more than 2 billion people in more than 60 countries to access the internet. It is known to help create tools like Signal, an encrypted messaging app, and Tor, a web browser that hides a user’s identity while connected to the Internet.

Fund officials have 30 days to appeal Mr Pack’s decision, according to the documents. Mr Pack, an ally of Stephen K. Banon, former adviser and strategist to President Trump, will oversee any appeal, legal experts have said. His final decision is due by Jan. 19, a day before Mr Biden takes office, according to the documents.

Legal experts said Mr Biden would likely not be able to overturn Mr Pack’s decision immediately, indicating that it could be months before all legal issues surrounding Mr Pack’s decision have been reached. answer.

Meanwhile, the Open Technology Fund could not receive money from the federal government and will only have enough funds to keep its staff of 10 employees until June, officials of the non-profit organization said. lucrative.

Without funding, projects that help provide nearly one in four Iranian citizens and 10 million people in China with internet access risk stopping, officials added.

“This is the coup de grace,” Laura Cunningham, interim managing director of the Open Technology Fund, said in a statement to the New York Times. “Without OTF, users around the world will be cut off from the global Internet.”

A spokesperson for the US Agency for Global Media said the agency is committed to funding a range of firewall circumvention technologies.

Mr. Pack cited several reasons why he decided to deprive the Open Technology Fund of federal funding.

He said the organization did not have “adequate authorization from Congress” to be a government-funded nonprofit, according to documents. The fund started in 2012 as a pilot program within Radio Free Asia, a broadcasting medium under the jurisdiction of the agency. In 2019, Congress allowed him to become an independent, non-profit media agency scholar.

Mr Pack said the Open Technology Fund broke conflict of interest rules by not disclosing whether he paid its board of directors. He also said the funds his agency gave to the non-profit group had “no apparent impact” on internet freedom.

Tools supported by the Open Technology Fund are recommended by organizations, including the United Nations.

“Sir. Pack’s allegations against the OTF are without merit and absolutely absurd,” said Ms. Cunningham. “The absurd and easily refutable nature of Mr. Pack’s allegations makes it clear that his actions are purely punitive and without substantial basis or cause. . “

The Open Technology Fund received bipartisan support in Congress. At a congressional watch hearing in September for the US World Media Agency – where Mr Pack ignored a subpoena – lawmakers said the fund’s budget of $ 20 million had been invaluable to stem the progress of Chinese and Russian surveillance technology, protecting humans. rights activists and journalists in repressive societies around the world, while allowing millions of people to access the Internet around the world.

In a joint statement on Saturday, Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, both Republicans, said Mr. Pack’s attempts to deprive the Open Technology Fund of access to US government funding for the next three years, called exclusion, would be a significant setback from US foreign policy goals.

This effort “is a blow to democratic movements around the world which rely on their services to push back authoritarian regimes,” they said. “This latest attempt by CEO Pack to bypass Congress and gut the Open Technology Fund, which is a lifeline for freedom fighters around the world, is absolutely unacceptable and will endanger democratic movements and lives,” worldwide.”

The Open Technology Fund became Mr. Pack’s target soon after taking office. He resigned from the fund’s board in June. This decision has been challenged in federal courts. A federal judge has temporarily set aside Mr Pack’s decision until a final decision is rendered.

In June, Mr. Pack temporarily withheld millions of dollars in funding from the nonprofit. In response, 527 human rights organizations and internet freedom groups – including Human Rights Watch and the Wikimedia Foundation, which hosts – called on members of Congress to protect the group from Mr. Pack’s non-profit shares.

Much of the concern around the Open Technology Fund revolves around the resistance of its leaders to fund firewall bypass software called Ultrasurf, developed by a member of Falun Gong, the secret spiritual movement persecuted by the Fund. Chinese Communist Party. The group embraced Mr. Trump for his anti-China positions.

Michael J. Horowitz, Reagan administration budget manager and longtime Ultrasurf supporter, appeared on Mr. Bannon’s show in June to denounce Libby Liu, the founder of the Open Technology Fund, saying ‘she should be fired. Ms Liu – who Mr Pack sacked in June – is not a supporter of Ultrasurf funding, a current Open Technology Fund official said.

The State Department released an audit of Ultrasurf in July, claiming that “the Ultrasurf platform, in its current state, would be a costly and inefficient waste of US tax dollars.” In November, Mr. Pack provided Ultrareach Internet Corp., Ultrasurf’s parent company, with a contract worth nearly $ 1.8 million, according to federal data.

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House approves week-long funding extension as stimulus talks continue

A six-page framework of the Moderates’ Plan, which was obtained by The New York Times, said the group had an “agreement in principle” to provide $ 160 billion to state and local governments and offer liability guarantees. to companies and other institutions open during the pandemic “as a basis for good faith negotiations”. But he left out all the substantive details.

The lack of details highlighted the remaining hurdles for the group, which has grown steadily in recent days as it works to complete its plan. And some senators have recognized that the success of any final deal rests on Congressional leaders from both houses who have yet to fully embrace their work.

“I think at the end of the day this has to be largely negotiated between the speaker and the majority leader,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, Republican from Missouri, who praised the group for its progress so far. . “If they have a broad base of consensus with which to start, maybe it will make it easier for them to make the final decisions.”

The moderates’ sketch would raise weekly federal unemployment benefit to $ 300 per week for 16 weeks from late December through April, and extend a series of unemployment programs that expire at the end of the month. It would provide $ 10 billion to child care providers, $ 25 billion in housing assistance, $ 82 billion to education providers, $ 6 billion for vaccine development and distribution, and 7 billions of dollars to state, local and tribal governments to conduct testing and research.

Their plan would reuse the money Mr. Mnuchin recovered from the Federal Reserve and remaining funds from the expired Paycheck Protection Program and allow small businesses to receive another loan from the popular Small Business Program. Notably, it does not include another round of stimulus checks, which some lawmakers – including Senators Bernie Sanders, independent from Vermont, and Josh Hawley, Republican from Missouri – have been pushing for in recent days.

And while Democratic leaders called it a starting point for negotiations, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and majority leader, did not approve of it. Instead, he suggested Tuesday that Democrats drop their request for funding for state and local governments in exchange for Republicans giving up on including a corporate accountability shield, an idea the Democrats immediately rejected it.